Clickers on NPR’s All Tech Considered

This afternoon’s “All Tech Considered” segment on NPR featured a story about teaching with clickers.  If you follow that link and click the “Listen Now” button, you can hear the entire piece, including a few comments by NPR technology correspondent Omar Gallaga.  Omar shares a few more resources on the “All Tech Considered” blog, including a link to my recent interview with Inside Higher Ed.

I thought I would comment on a couple of points raised in the piece.  I liked this quote from Conor McLennan of Cleveland State University:

“I thought people would be less likely to speak up because now they can respond anonymously, they don’t have to open their mouth,” McLennan says. “But it turns out, it’s the other way around.

“They know everybody is answering the questions, everyone is in the same boat, so they are more likely to speak up and interact.”

This is one of the reasons clickers can be great tools to encourage discussion.

Omar Gallaga made the point that instructors using clickers should be careful that students aren’t giving them the false impression of understanding just because they clicked the correct answer.  I agree with that–following a clicker question with some class discussion is usually a good idea to help verify the results of a clicker question.

However, I would argue that other methods of having students respond during class (hand-raising, flashcards) are even more likely to give instructors the false impression that their students are following along since these methods can make it possible for students to see how their peers respond before responding themselves.  Furthermore, just asking one’s students “Any questions?” every now and then can be misleading, too, since students are often hesitant to admit in front of their peers that they have questions.  Clickers are a great tool for overcoming these difficulties.

NPR host Melissa Block made the point in the piece that multiple-choice questions might not be the best types of questions for helping students develop critical thinking skills.  As Peter Pappas pointed out in the comments on the NPR site, it’s quite possible to ask multiple-choice questions that target critical thinking skills.  I’ve mentioned a few possibilities here on the blog, and I have a whole section in my book on critical thinking clicker questions.

These points notwithstanding, I’m glad to see clickers getting some more press coverage.  By the way, Turning Technologies, make of a popular classroom response system, was mentioned in this story.  They were featured in another NPR story the other week on economic revitalization in Youngstown, Ohio, their home base.

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